Monday, 18 September 2017

Words: Let's use them, not abuse them.

                        All reporting, however flawed, is better than none.

"YOU KNOW if you say a word over and over again, it becomes meaningless," the middle child announces. "Try it, pick anything: chair! Chair...chair...chair...chair...chair..."

"I get the idea," I say, starting to become distracted by the repetition.

"If I heard that word all day, every day, it'd just become a sound," she says.

It gets me thinking about language. I've been thinking recently about how language constantly changes. Change can be good. It shakes us up, stops us using outdated words, makes us realise that language is a living thing and needs to evolve.

The Boy has a personal essay to write for English class. His teacher corrected the first draft, ringing a particular sentence. 'Syntax', she wrote in red biro. I show him how to reword the sentence. 

There's something to be said about knowing the rules before you break them. If the rules of grammar and structure and spelling are the caterpillar, the creative essay is the butterfly. Rules in mind, he fills the pages with words I'd rarely use.

Nobody ever said 'very wonderful'.

Does anyone use the word 'very' anymore? Or is everything 'super'? Super long, super funny, super damned annoying. Since when can something be 'super wonderful'? Nobody ever said 'very wonderful'. And if absolutely everything is 'awesome', how does anyone know what that means? 

It's difficult to tell how quickly words used on social media, will worm their way into every day life. When will we start to tell our partners and our children, our parents and siblings that we 'heart' them? What's wrong with the word 'love'?

When did it stop being useful? Or is it being overused? Is it because we now see that hashtag everywhere: #lovenothate. Our way of confronting the hate that pervades our society: bigotry, ignorance and discrimination, violence, death...the list is endless.

Fake news. Another new expression in the English language. When I first heard it, I burst out laughing. Who would use it? Fake means false, the opposite of true. Fake news means lies.

We start to forget what it means. We start to become numb to the insult.

But it's an expression that's thrown around more and more. In politics, in business, on social media. We hear it so often, that it's almost become meaningless.

And there's the danger. We start to forget what it really means. We start to become numb to the insult. At a time when we are determined to take offence at everything, the irony would be laughable, if it weren't tragic.

Constantly accusing elements of society of 'fake news' is a way of shutting people up. Shutting up the traditional media, for example. Or the so-called liberal classes. Or the intellectuals. The writers and the thinkers of our age.

The rule has always been to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

None of whom are perfect, of course. Because, like all humans, they are flawed.
But here's the thing. If the media, in their own imperfect way, do their job, and are allowed to do their job, then they will continue to make things uncomfortable for those who abuse their power, or who tell lies, or who do something wrong. They will continue to highlight what is wrong in the world. The rule has always been 'To comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable'.

And when they get it wrong, it's fine to argue with the same, flawed media. But it's never right to try to shut them up. It's never right to dismiss everything they report as 'fake news' and refuse to engage with them.

This is not the first time in recent history that the media, the liberal thinkers, the writers and intellectuals, have been dismissed and derided. In 1930s Europe anyone who spoke out against the populist regime that swept through Germany, was shut up. Sometimes in the most brutal and inhumane manner.

Eventually, truth will out.

And when newspapers and books were burned all over the country, millions of ordinary people celebrated. Because they'd been seduced by leaders who were careful to make their message very plain and very simple.

It's easier to understand words when they are plain and simple. Equally, it's difficult for nuanced language to find popularity in the age of the soundbite.

For those brave enough to continue to point out what is wrong, to argue with words, rather than with refuse to shut up, it will be a hard road. But eventually, truth will out.

The Boy is on the third draft of his personal essay: 'My dreams and ambitions'. The thoughts are his own. If asked, I simply point out grammar mistakes...or help with syntax. I discourage slang.

Language is changing and beautiful and nuanced. We need to use it for good.

Sometimes we all need to stand up for what we believe.


ear reader,

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#Fakenews #socialmedia #language #words